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The Trustees of the British Museum
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William Woollett (1735-1785) after Wilson
Published 1761
Engraving and etching
Metric: 438 x 585 mm (trimmed)
Imperial: 17 1/4 x 23 in.
Accession Number
Wilson Online Reference
Niobe is shown at the centre, clutching a small child to her and looking upwards to the clouds on the right, where Apollo and Artemis fire arrows at her children. Several of the children are already dead or wounded; the others, on the left, are attempting to escape. There is a mass of broken trees on the far right, a fortress and stormy seas with lightning flashes on the left.
[An impression] Free Society of Artists 1762 (205); Tercentenary 2014 (90)
The subject is taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book 6, lines 144-312. Niobe, daughter of Tantalus and Queen of Thebes, is punished for having dared to suggest, because she had seven sons and seven daughters, that she was superior to the goddess Leto (or Latona). Apollo and Artemis, children of Leto, killed all of Niobe's offspring in revenge and she herself wept until she was turned into stone.
Related Drawings
D355 Recumbent Male Nude, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
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Further impressions are at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (Ma1565) and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
Related Paintings
P90 The Destruction of the Children of Niobe, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven
Critical commentary
After the first Society of Artists exhibition in 1760, John Boydell commissioned Woollett to engrave Wilson's acclaimed submission, P90 The Destruction of the Children of Niobe, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven, together with three of the other most celebrated landscapes of the exhibition, including a Phaeton. For engraving Niobe Woollett was offered the unprecedented fee of 100 guineas, supplmented by two payments of £25 as the compleixty of the project was revealed. The print was finally offered to subscribers in October 1761 and exhibited at the Free Society in 1762. A laudatory poem by John Lockman in The Public Advertiser emphasised the significance of the print, of Woollett and of Boydell in raising the reputation of the British school of engraving. Niobe brought Boydell profits of about £2,000, unprecedented for an engraving after a landscape by a British artist. It sold well in France, enabling Boydell to import French prints in exchange.
John Lockman, The Public Advertiser, 5 November 1761; Jones 1803, p. 19; Edwards 1808, p. 88; Fagan 1876, p. 158; Fagan 1885, p. 19, cat.XLII, 5th State; Grant 1945; WGC, p. 161, notes with pl. 19a; R.T. Godfrey, Printmaking in Britain, Oxford, 1978, pp. 43-45; Clayton 1997, pp.186, 188-89; Layfield 2010, pp. 29-32; A Griffiths, The Print before Photography, 2016, pp. 73, 291-292, repr.